Sometimes you need to take a long walk with an old friend
As I recently walked the streets of Jerusalem, I wondered what it would have been like to run into Jesus the way you'd run into an old friend.
I walked the streets where he'd walked—felt like I breathed the same air he'd breathed—felt the same oppressive sun and dry heat he'd felt—saw olive trees like he would've seen—longed for the shade and the quiet he'd longed for.
What it would have been like to see him—to watch him touch and heal the sick, the hurt, the weary, the blind—to see the compassion in his eyes—hear his voice cracking as he spoke through tears—to see his smile, his outstretched hand, his dust-covered feet, his worn-out sandals. To be near him.
Imagine walking alongside Him—behind Him as one of his disciples, as a friend, a curious observer, a pilgrim visiting Jerusalem, or even as a skeptic or a Pharisee.
As he approached the Eastern Gate, He knew He was the undefiled, blameless firstborn—the soon-to-be-once-and-for-all sacrifice—the final Passover lamb. As He entered the city, He heard the cheers. "Save us. Save us, please." Struggling under Roman oppression, the people were desperate for a savior. They called out to Him as their ancestors had called out to triumphant kings, saviors, deliverers.
Expectation filled the streets as He entered the city. Unmet, unresolved expectations.
The kingdom He envisioned, the kingdom He brought to the people was not an earthly kingdom, not a physical kingdom, not a flip—Rome—upside—down kingdom, but a spiritual kingdom. He brought no peace to Jerusalem. No peace to the nations. His idea of peace was a humble heart who trusts God for inner peace that ignores the storms of life and holds fast to an everlasting savior, a savior who surpasses time and governments, a savior who reaches into the hearts of the broken, weak, downcast, and outcast. He is the savior who gave Himself for those who couldn't understand, couldn't see, couldn't believe their eyes when He surrendered.
He was beaten, stripped, publicly disgraced, and displayed on a cross. He hung as a criminal. Barely alive. Hanging. Writhing. Working to breath. All-the-while hearing their jeers, watching their tears, feeling their fears.
The lamb was slain.
Excitement gone. Crowd dispersed. His limp, cold body taken down. Buried.
He was dead, and hope died with Him. Disillusioned, bewildered disciples must have felt lost—even betrayed. They huddled together if fear and despair. Not knowing what to do, where to go, whom to follow.
Nothing to do. Nowhere to go. Some of his followers decided to go home. Regroup. Start over. Find something to believe in. Find a new hope.
Two of His followers took the road home toward Emmaus. Staring at the road beneath them, kicking the dust, and kicking themselves, they plodded along. Thoughts whirled through their last moments with Him, the foot washing, the healings, falling asleep in the valley just down the hill from the temple, olive stains on their robes from lying on the ground in the garden of the olive press, Gat Shmanim (גת שמנים).
The whys, what ifs, and if onlys that must’ve churned in their thoughts as they walked those miles.
As I read the story recently, it struck me that Jesus met them on the road. They weren’t in a hurry. They were barely putting one foot in front of the other—lost—not knowing what to think, where to go, what to do. Did anything mean anything? Their doubts blinded them to the reality beside them.
As they walked together, Jesus asked them what they were talking about and why were they sad. One of the two, a man named Cleopas asked Him if He was the "only stranger in Jerusalem." In other words, "Where have you been? Have you been living under a rock?"
Well, for three days...
Jesus knew why they were sad, why they were wandering, why they were disillusioned.
Why those two? Why there? Why then?
He called them foolish and slow of heart to not understand and believe the words of the prophets concerning their deliverer—their messiah—Himself. "Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?"
I wish I could have seen the looks on their faces. More than that, I wish I could've heard Him tell them the story of Himself—the Son of God—the Messenger of the Lord—the Faithful Witness woven through the scriptures they had grown up hearing but had never understood.
When your mind is wandering, when your plodding along bewildered and befuddled, seven miles can seem like forever.
But I imagine the stories unfolding—their hearts pounding—minds buzzing as He spoke of Moses and the burning bush. The fire that burns but never consumes. The Holy Spirit of God Who needs no energy beyond Himself. He burns with more brightness than a thousand suns without the need of any wood—any source of energy. He is the Source. All-Sufficient.
They continued walking.
The Angel of the Lord—Messenger of the Lord—One like a son of the gods (as Nebuchadnezzar had said) standing with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The One brighter than the sun defying the flames. Never consuming fire and never consumed by fire.
I imagine they lost sense of time, walking slower and slower, even pausing as He spoke of King David and his Psalms. "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?" When He spoke of the King on the Holy Hill of Zion, He spoke of Himself. No one expected a conquering king to establish His kingdom through His own death. No one expected the dead to rise again.
Were their hearts stirred as His words began to make sense of all they'd heard but never known? Did He quote the twenty-second psalm? Did they understand He was talking about Himself when He said, "I'm poured out like water." Did they recognize He was talking about His death on the cross when He said, "My tongue clings to my jaws. You have brought me to the dust of death.?"
Surely, their hearts jumped when He said, "They pierced My hands and My feet. I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots."
"All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations."
Still not getting it? How many miles left? How many prophets?
"He was despised and rejected. A man of suffering and familiar with pain."
Can you picture the two disciples starting to see it? I imagine Cleopas whispering something like "It's all coming together. God's been weaving this plan since the beginning, and we're in the middle of it."
But the stories go on.
"He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors."
"He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
Jesus opened the gates to forever life for those with whom He was numbered—the transgressors—the wrongdoers—the misfits—us.
When Cleopas and the other disciple reached the place where they wanted to spend the night, Jesus acted as though He had farther to travel, but they begged him to stay.
When they sat down to eat—when He broke the bread, their eyes were opened. All at once, they knew the stranger was no stranger. He was the Messiah—the One the stories were all about—the One Who suffered and died—the One Who conquered death once and for all.
Yeshua. ישוע. Jesus.
The seven miles that had seemed so long turned into a sprint as they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the eleven who had been with Jesus through it all.
It had been three days since He'd risen from the dead. Wednesday evening. They'd all but given up. Cleopas and his friend had likely been headed home—dejected—not knowing what to do next or even where to go. There hopes had died on a Roman cross—buried in a borrowed tomb.
But hope was alive again.
As you walk, don't let Jesus be a stranger. Don't let the stories just be stories. Let His words stir your heart as they did those two unlikely disciples—one we don't even know by name. Let your heart beat for Him—for His words—for the hope born in your soul from His suffering and His coming to life again.